The taste of yesterday.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Until October 13 1996, when the golden arches were first raised in the city (in Basant Lok Market), we Delhiwallas were McDonald’s virgins.
You can still make a return journey to your former chastity. A fast-food counter stands beside Radhey Shyama Chemist & Cosmetics in south Delhi’s Aurobindo Market.
This is Wimpy.
Yes, the same Wimpy that was also in N-Block Connaught Place (CP) where young Delhiites on red vinyl chairs brushed shoulders with foreign tourists–this outlet had found a mention in Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler’s classic West Asia on a Shoe String as a place for “good ‘lamb burgers’ for Rs 8 to Rs 16.”
The 2015 edition of Wimpy in Aurobindo Market offers five types of lamb burgers–with exotic versions like ‘with cheese’ and ‘without cheese’. It is essentially a takeaway though gray plastic tables lie outside in the manner of a European-style bistro. There is a water cooler, too.
The server says there are two more Wimpy parlors in Malviya Nagar and Janakpuri. He is dressed in a red shirt with yellow collars.
Soon two young men arrive. Digging into his Double Maxi burger, Sanil Sudan says, “We come here often.” His friend Ayush Arora nods and says, “I prefer Wimpy over MacDonald’s… Actually I feel nothing special about Wimpy’s burgers but I feel something political about MacDonald’s, so I avoid going there.” Mr Sudan butts in, saying, “But nobody can beat MacD’s finger fries.”
Wimpy’s finger fries are soggy. The Spicy Bean burger topped with raw cabbage is awfully greasy.
Novelist Advaita Kala feels somewhat romantic about this shack. An Aurobindo Market regular, she has been performing a little ritual for years–Ms Kala hangs out once a week in her favorite bookstore, Midland, which is just around the corner from Wimpy, and the bookshop’s friendly owner gets her a burger.
“When Wimpy first arrived in Delhi in the early nineties, it was like something that jumped out of an Archie’s comic book… remember Pop’s sundae shop?,” says Ms Kala on e-mail. “It sort of captured one’s teen imagination. And Wimpy did bring multiple flavor ice creams, sundaes and sodas to the city along with Nirula’s. The CP outlet was a big hangout point for us school students. The pavement bookseller outside always had interesting and sometimes banned books to sell and post our burger feast we would walk around CP’s inner circle… Today Wimpy has been left behind by other competitors. The one in Aurobindo Market is falling apart, but my book-and-burger routine survives.”
Opened in 1985, the Wimpy at CP was the first franchisee of a UK-based chain. It went on to symbolize Delhi’s evolving modern life particular to that time. In his book India Dreams: Cultural Identity Among Young Middle Class Men in New Delhi, Stockholm-based anthropologist Paolo Favelo memorably described a late afternoon there: “Backpackers keep hurrying in and out of the fastfood restaurant. Kashmiri tout rush after them regarding them alternatively as business or erotic exploits. Upstairs there is a birthday party. Middle class kids are shouting among a sea of colorful plastic balloons.”
The Wimpy at CP shut down in 2009 (according to a pavement bookseller); its place is taken over by Domino’s Pizza and Dunkin’ Donuts.
But Aurobindo’s Wimpy is not going anywhere. There is also no competition around. The nearest MacDonald’s is two miles away in South Extension leaving us firmly back in pre-1996.
The old Delhi burger